Everything we write is part of us and says something about us, whether we want it to or not. That goes doubly for memoirs, blogs, even a lot of poetry. We, as writers, give our hearts, souls, everything that lies in us to the public.
And we wait. We hope.
That being said, writers are more than just writing. Most of us on here are growing folks, and many of us are still figuring out where we lie in the sphere of how much of ourselves we can share, especially in shorter or more personal works.
Last year, I wrote an essay tying three family stories of resilience together. It won me money.
The essay was deeply personal, and I nearly considered rethinking my topic. It talked about bullying, cancer, the nitty-gritty of immigration. It was screeching: this is what I am, these are the shoes I’ve filled and outgrown, and it is terrifying. The first draft of that essay was unfiltered — as many opinions as there were events, as much feeling as there was analysis.
I don’t envy the English teacher that helped revise it. There, came a lesson — pick and choose. If I couldn’t write about immigration without sounding jaded, I simply would not share the writing. If I could not balance reflections on an effective response to bullying, it would just mean I wasn’t ready to write a story centering it or write my experiences out for an audience.
Young writers, especially bloggers, find that this may be one of the most difficult lessons to learn. I find myself slipping up sometimes as well, with what works to be shared, what is valuable to the audience versus what I felt like writing.
What fixed that essay was outside input, but not all pieces have that, and rarely will an English professional be there to guide you. So, what do you do when you want to write about something you don’t know how to?
Writing as someone else with your own experiences, I’ve found, creates a balance between authenticity and fiction. I wrote a short story of an old, dying woman dealing with similar issues as me while having nothing in common with me, and it worked. There were these undertones I’ve found as a child of a hurt mother, this self-discovery akin to queerness in a character never conformed queer.
That piece was the most me I’ve ever been in writing, and I don’t think anyone else saw it. It was well-liked, though. It was vulnerable, personal, without being a dump of feelings. It’s common for fiction writers to give parts of their lives to characters.
One of the most important lessons I learned from TYWI’s summer camp came from a bit of an offhand comment in Safia Elhillo’s Q&A, where she mentioned personal issues she was willing to writing about and what topics she’d leave for her journal. There was no mention of avoiding writing about personal issues or events regarding others; it was simply her deciding what she’d polish and share and what she’d let herself have.
For me, I guess it was part of a bigger realization — the one where I found out that no one owes their world a story. Anything can be art but young writers, especially (I say this as a high school student myself) need to experiment, need to find out where they draw the line.
How personal is comfortable for the audience (especially when publishing — a fact I learned the hard way), and what do you want others to know?
A high school blog really isn’t the end of the world. If you need others to see your story, if you need to find that place, I’m proud of you, and you go for it. But, as we all grow, I think we need to figure out where we draw our lines in nonfiction and how we choose to represent issues of our own in fiction.
is a high school student in New Jersey. She likes (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and is always up to learn something new! Find her on Instagram at @writing_stoot.